The Mountain Goats Goths
With each new album the prolific folk-rock outfit find new areas to explore and new ways to evolve their existing sound. In 13 years, the band has grown from John Darnielle recording single takes into a busted into a full band known for infectious folk songs with elaborate compositions. Darnielle's clever and heartfelt lyrics, full of flawed yet relatable characters have earned the band a devout fanbase and a wiki cataloging all their stories. They are also known for their interesting album concepts: 2009’s The Life of the World To Come found Darnielle basing songs off of Bible verses, and 2015’s Beat The Champ told stories of glory, shame, family, and love all through the lens of professional wrestling. On their sixteenth studio album, Goths, not only do they explore another fascinating sub-culture, but they extremely alter their instrumental setup. The band started with just John and a guitar, yet on Goths he ditches his guit-fiddle and instead craft subtle compositions consisting of bass, drums, various keys organs, brass, and woodwinds. The band has ventured into this style in the past but now they’ve fully committed. They avoid any similarities to goth-rock using it solely as a subject rather than a musical influence. This instrumental shift does not effect the band’s signature style at all, the structures, melodies, and storytelling remain consistent with the rest of the band’s catalogue. Whether it’s goth band members, venues, or fashion Darnielle channels his immense knowledge on the subject and his attention to detail to tell vivid yet vague tales of the customs and motivations of participants in the culture. His lyrics are dense with all manner of obscure references, whether it’s bible verses, shakespeare, or discontinued stereo equipment, Darnielle gives excruciating detail to make his stories so immersive. The album begins with the epic and ominous “Rain In Soho” with vocal contributions from commenting on life's great unknowns and the passage of time, referencing the influential nightclub and “birthplace of southern English goth culture” The Batcave, saying no one knows when it closed. Followed by the bouncy “Andrew Eldritch Is Moving Back To Leeds” telling the story of The Sisters of Mercy frontman Andrew Eldritch moving back to his old town, telling the story of faded dreams, old friends, and coming home. “The Grey King and the Silver Flame Attunement” and “We Do It Different on the West Coast” explores the different interpretations of the culture and the extremes people take it to. “Wear Black” chronicles all the situations and reasons you would wear black, which amounts to all the time in any situation. Committing to the culture as one ages is a theme throughout the records, exploring how far you will take and what level of dedication are you willing to exhibit, and the accompanying doubts. Overall this album examines identity and community and how these is found in different ways through music, or clothing, or region. Beyond that Darnielle accomplishes what he did on Beat The Champ, shedding light on a culture that most people don’t even know exists, let alone understand the depth, diversity, and nuance within that culture. He tells the stories of forgotten, unknown, and outcast characters in beautiful ways that give a moment of beauty and glory to some who never received it in life. These are people you’ve seen maybe even known and you can picture your experience with them and apply this rich backstory to alter your perspective of them. Every time I think I can’t love this band more they push the envelope and do something surprising and amazing. Hear as we listen to “Andrew Eldritch Is Moving Back To Leeds” and discuss our love of The Mountain Goats on Best Song Ever.
Land of Talk Life After Youth
Elizabeth Powell meant to get around to making another album years ago, but life got in the way. She moved back to her Canadian hometown to take care of her ailing father after he suffered a stroke. It’s now been 7 years since the last Land of Talk album and it was worth the wait. While taking care of her dad, Powell listened to a lot of classical and ambient music and found it very therapeutic and she wanted to carry that over to this album. She approached making these new songs, rather than being all guitar based songs she started from more ambient synth beds and building on that. These songs rise from a base of dreamy ambience, yet Powell’s frenetic guitar playing and passionate vocals add immediacy to the otherwise hazy backdrop. The guitar work on this album is still fantastic, often leaping from the background to add a fuzzed out solo that oddly fits perfectly. Powell enlisted some amazing musical friends to assist on this album. It was produced and mixed by John Angello and Besnard Lakes' Jace Lasek, and it has contributions from Sharon Van Etten, Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley, Sal Maida who’s played with the likes of Sparks and Roxy Music, and the whole of Besnard Lakes. The result is an album that feels very personal and vulnerable, yet it’s so catchy and well crafted. The ambiance is key on this album, what sets it apart is the sonic environment she created, inspired by the ambient music she used to heal, it's unlike any other album I’ve heard all year. Hear as i play “This Time” and we discuss on Best Song Ever.
Daniel Romano Modern Pressure
Canadian singer/songwriter Daniel Romano has trafficked in country revival until recently. On his new album he channels 70’s psychedelic rock and folk, reminiscent of the likes of Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Rod Stewart, and Grateful Dead. Daniel’s distinct timbre is backed by elaborate compositions with bouncy bass and drums, and killer guitar riffs, The guitar is the star on this album, harkening back to the time when guitar rock ruled the world of music. Overall the production flawlessly emulates his vintage influences, yet employs some current production tricks and vocal effects. I love when a songwriter can take inspirations and situations from modern times and make them sound from another time and another place and give them a grander scope than you would expect. The common theme on this album is love, whether a failed love like the one on “Ugly Human Heart” or the love that took time to mature in, “When I Learned Your Name.” The beautiful album closer feels like finale of a broadway show, saving the most powerful song for last. On the chorus Daniel desperately questions, “What’s to become of a lover like me, who’s been hid from the light but now finally sees? And what are the wish of the stars from above? Tell me what’s to become of the meaning of love?” Daniel’s performance on this closing track becomes increasingly more volatile ending in a frustrated scream, this song has really stuck with me and become one of my favorites of the year. This album is incredible, it evokes nostalgia, yet comments on Modern Pressure. Hear Brian and I listen to “When I Learned Your Name” on Best Song Ever.
(Sandy) Alex G Rocket
Philedelphia’s Alex Giannascoli is only 24 years old and he’s released 8 albums. Last year, Frank Ocean enlisted Alex to play guitar on both his albums Endless and Blonde. Alex started as a one man band, DIY, bedroom pop type musician. His previous albums were solo efforts, self-recorded and self-released. However, on this album he’s joined by different players and collaborators, although he really is the master mind and man in control of everything. Rocket, is his most diverse, most ambitious, and best work yet. While some songs retain the lo-fi bedroom pop sound, tracks like, “Country” and the auto-tuned “Sportstar” a lot of tracks venture into country pop and folk with banjo’s and acoustic guitar and fiddle, like the album opener “Poison Root” and lead singles “Proud” and “Bobby.” The track “Brick” is Death Grips-esque noise rock with screams. There is a theme of uncertainty and doubt which is emphasized by the genre-hopping, sporadic style of the album. Alex said with this album he “wanted it to be full of these characters that don’t know how crazy they are.” You hear these characters who’s dreams and ideas perhaps don’t align with the reality they find themselves a part of. This is a huge step forward for an already accomplished artist. Hear as Brian and I listen to “Bobby” and discuss on Best Song Ever.
Wavves You're Welcome
I know what you’re thinking: Did Wavves cover Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s song “You’re Welcome” from Disney’s Moana. Answer: No they did not. In fact, the fifth album by the beloved punk band is perhaps their best since 2010’s King of the Beach. It’s difficult to venture in a genre like pop-punk where it’s simplicity is it’s great asset, yet an album full of simple catchy punk songs could be surprisingly boring. I thought perhaps Wavves had exhauster their sound, but I mistaken. What they’ve managed to do on this album, more effectively than on their last couple, is make the songs very diverse, all possessing their own interesting element. The band manages to uphold their tradition of bracing pop-punk but they permeated by static crunches, electronic flourishes, and other production tricks that push the songs over the edge of awesomeness. Nathan Williams has been wont to write some twee and cutesy songs occasionally, and that is the case on some of these songs. Many of these songs are about love (the album close is called “I Love You”), yet they never get unbearable, they are all well constructed and well executed, and they rock so hard that it’s a good balance. I didn’t think this band could make their sound even bigger and rock even harder but somehow they pulled it off.
Gothic Tropic Fast or Feast
LA based singer/songwriter Cecilia Della Peruti makes indie-rock under the moniker is Gothic Tropic. The name perfectly suits the music, which possesses the melancholy, gothic spirit, and the breezy and bright atmosphere that provides the tropic. She calls it a, "a new brand of female fronted, guitar-driven indie rock.” The instrumentation on this album is all around fantastic, but Della’s guitar is what really shines. From bouncy licks to meandering solos, she establishes herself as a guitarist to know. She formerly played as a session musician with the likes of Charli XCX and Borns and she’s got a sponsorship from my favorite guitar brand, Fender. She nods to great female rock pioneers like Chrissy Hinde and Debbie Harry, and joins the ranks of Annie Clark and Brittany Howard as one of the great female guitarists of our time. Hear me play “How Life Works” on Best Song Ever.
Chris Bathgate Dizzy Seas
Illinois native Chris Bathgate rose to prominence in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti folk scene in the early aughts. 10 albums later he is a bit of a hometown hero in the West Michigan music scene. I saw Chris back in 2011 on his tour for Salt Year, on that album he started taking his purely folk sound and polish it off a bit, gravitating towards a more polished, less acoustic sound. On his tenth album, Dizzy Seas, he settles in nicely to that sound. Much of this album is misty and expansive, earning it's title with dizzying guitars and synth pads. Though he's polished off the sound a lot of the folk structures remain. Organic percussion and fiddles appear on many songs, and Bathgate still has a knack for writing melodies that sound like folk hymns. This is an exciting new step for the Michigan folk mainstay. His new sound makes him even more accessible while retaining his signature style for longtime fans. Hear as I play "Low Hey" on Best Song Ever, featuring another Michigan musician, Tunde Olaniran.